Sometimes a rancher’s best tool is a reliable pickup. Dad had a 2007 Dodge Diesel Cummings. It sounded sexy and looked tough. That Hydra Bed bale loader accessorized with two six-foot chains with grab hooks on either end became our MVP. We moved everything with it. At any time during the year, the flatbed held a conglomeration of cross-seasonal supplies from wooden posts and a chainsaw to buckets of pellets and an axe. Standard equipment included the bars, shovel, and wire stretchers. There is one problem however with a flatbed lacking side rails.
Our homestead in South Blaine County sports ever-changing creek banks, shale and rock slides, limestone deposits concealed by head-high sagebrush, coulees and washes and their subsequent bogs, and deceptive black sand sinkholes. It can be a challenging place to ride a horse, let alone drive a vehicle laden with supplies. Charmingly enough, the road leading up to the house crosses a creek and runs up a short, steep hill. Periodically, runoff creates a gully down the middle of that hill or, more often, a diagonal wash that necessitates clever driving.
From the beginning, the Dodge exhibited certain quirkiness. One of its first issues was a faulty emergency brake. Parking it with the motor running was tricky. Often, after loading hay and pellets, Dad would pull up in front of the house and leave the Dodge idling while he enjoyed another cup of coffee. That damn pickup would idle there for ten minutes three days out of five but would occasionally vibrate into a slow roll, coast down that hill, and creatively park itself in the creek! Sometimes the creek had a sheer two-foot drop on the downstream side of the crossing. Once, Dad had to get the Caterpillar to doze the Dodge out of the hole. Once the runaway commenced closer to the barn and ended in the lilac bush after smashing the yard fence.
Ranch Rule Number 2 came about on a specific early spring day. My niece, sister, and I were riding on the road east from the house to the corrals where we had planned a short branding. Dad had transported the branding pot and propane tank and sent my brother-in-law back with the Dodge for the Vet box. We were already across the aforementioned creek and about halfway to the first gate when I heard a terrific clatter. I turned in my saddle to see my brother-in-law running alongside the Dodge as it charged across the road toward the hill and the creek. He had the door open and his right hand on the headache rack as if he might prevent it from rolling over or perhaps he was imagining a vaulting trick-rider mount. The equipment avalanche barely missed him. Luckily, the front passenger-side tire dropped in the washout, slammed the wheels to the right, and abruptly ended the runaway. Crisis averted, my most capable brother-in-law gathered the equipment and later confessed only minor concern. Too late for a warning about the Dodge’s runaway habits, impossible to control the mishap from a quarter of a mile away, all I could do was watch — in horror. Thus originated Ranch Rule Number 2, which is, Sometimes You Just Have to Ride Away.